The Elephants and I

"A moving account of Africa's power to attract, inspire, and change the course of one's life, giving it a new meaning. Sharon's story is of courage, adventure, love and commitment to the elephants of Zimbabwe."
“Kuki Gallmann, author of the i

An unplanned visit to South Africa’s Kruger National Park changed Sharon Pincott’s life as she knew it. She was a high-flying Information Technology specialist Down Under, but now she dreamed of working with Africa’s wildlife. Eventually, she abandoned her life of privilege and luxury and moved to Zimbabwe to live and work among elephants on land bordering Hwange National Park. It was a startling contrast to her former life. In time, Sharon formed extraordinary relationships with wild elephants, having learned to know them intimately. She treasured escapades with friends, both human and animal, in spectacular remote places.     

But, as she soon discovered first-hand, the beauty and wonder of wild Zimbabwe had a dark foreboding side. Snaring of wildlife was rife, and when land invaders claimed the area where Sharon’s elephant friends roamed, she went into battle for their land and their lives – while fighting for her own wellbeing, in her homeland of choice. This is an inspirational true story filled with unrivalled splendour, joy and hope – but sure enough in today’s Zimbabwe, this precious beauty is frequently shattered by heartbreaking despair.

 “Sharon Pincott has written a memoir worthy of her elephant friends. A very moving story.” – Gareth Patterson, international best-selling author of Last of the Free

Sharon Pincott is the Joy Adamson of Zimbabwe. It takes a very special person to battle the loneliness and isolation of the African bush. Sharon’s passionate commitment to the Presidential Elephants – in the face of soaring political tensions … is contagious. We salute her courage and dedication.”
– Wilf Mbanga, editor, The Zimbabwean


Parameters of Book: Book
Sub-title: Pursuing a Dream in Troubled Zimbabwe
Author: Sharon Pincott
ISBN: 9781770096493 
Size (mm): 235mm x 155mm
Pages: 296pp
format: Paperback
Colour: Full Colour
Rights: World
Language: English
Publication Date: 2009-01-01
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Dear reader

In the year 2000, one of my former professors at the hotel management school in Maastricht gave me a book called ‘African leadership’, by Willem de Liefde. He told me that I had to read it, as it was very similar to what we were doing at Mise en Place, the company I founded in 1994. I finished the book in one evening and became so enthusiastic about it that I immediately bought 10 copies, which I handed out during our annual management meeting between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (our powerplay). I asked management to start reading it right away. At that time, our company existed of five offices in two countries, with a team of 25 driven and passionate fulltime employees and a turnover of around 5 million euro.

Determined people working together can do anything

From then on, we called our meetings ‘Kgotlas’. We wrote a few basic rules from the book on the tablecloth of the hotel where we were staying (the truth will be shared, we will let each other finish talking, a decision will always be made and storytelling will be our number one tool). Today, 12 years later, that specific tablecloth is still on the wall of one of our regularly used meeting rooms.

We determined that within Mise en Place, there would be no hierarchy. The so-called hierarchic 0-line was implemented, and after a mission/vision weekend in the Belgian Ardennes we made the big decision: ‘Together we proudly put energy in making friends and creating synergy’. The vision would be supported by our values, such as responsibility, positive energy and trust.

People create growth, companies report it

Today I am writing this preface, right after our firm took care of the hospitality-staff for all 10 stadiums during the past FIFA World Soccer Championship. The project was a great success, and over the past three years we have had the chance to train over 9 000 South African students for this job. For a large part, we owe this success to the concepts and ideas of ubuntu. The South Africans truly have ‘hospitality inside’, and it is part of their culture to be hospitable and helpful.

The best vision is insight

After 16 years of Mise en Place, we are active in six countries on three continents, with 40 offices, 300 full-time and 7 500 part-time employees and a turnover of around 50 million euro. Our base is still the same as 16 years ago: friendship, the desire to be innovative and the firm belief that we can help people develop. Matters such as profitability, revenue targeting or ROI are subordinate to the goal of Mise en Place.

Each month, the city managers – of each country – come together to inspire each other through storytelling and to share the recent developments within their office. They tell stories about the past or coming month, about private or business matters. The next day, the Kgotla takes place, where we come to conclusions and make agreements.

We hire character, and we train skill

We nourish our collective consciousness by regularly organising internal events. An example is the Summer 6 Camp, where over 600 student employees come together for three days of sports, socialising and partying. We also organise an annual skiing trip with over 200 participants, which embeds our company culture even more.

If people have been on the job for over 1 000 hours, they join the ‘Silver Circle’. At that point, we are getting close to where we want to be: in their hearts and not in their heads. That way they continue to work for us and remain a part of the Mise en Place family, even after their studies. Even though we are not blood relatives, we have a very firm bond and we believe in co-existence between ourselves, our environment and our planet.

Standing up is a challenge, falling down depends on your ego

By intuition, experience and trust, our organisation is starting a transformation. The desire for change and new experiences takes us to many places in the world and therefore creates many chances for reflection and development. We pay a high price for the lessons we learn, and see this as a necessary step to eventually become an organic growth-firm, whose foundation consists of its employees. We laugh a lot about the things that don’t work out and keep looking ahead by sharing our dreams with each other.

Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence, only in constant improvement and constant change

In order to select new people we developed the ‘Mise en Scan’, a personal behavioural-model. This model focuses on the talents which can still be developed. Therefore, the year 2010 was the year of 20Talent for Mise en Place. With as little bureaucracy and management as possible, we are working together and taking decisions in ‘open space’. Each voice is equal (it is not the percentage of shares that matters) and by getting our people into a state of trust and involvement, they are putting in the extra effort that is necessary. During the past crisis, we asked our fulltime employees the following question: ‘Should we fire 20% of you, or should everyone (including shareholders) get a 20% lower wage?’ They unanimously chose for the second option. Reciprocity and ubuntu is in our DNA!

There is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs

The fact that I met Willem de Liefde in Johannesburg is the proof that we are on the right path with our company. It strengthens my belief that leading an organisation has nothing to do with managerial models, hierarchy or pay checks. The leadership of the future consists of understanding, empathy and intuition, in combination with the laws of nature, experience and sharing knowledge. Therefore, it is a huge honour to be able to write this preface. I will definitely place this new book on the booklist for our employees.

A great leader won’t outsprint his team

The final thing for me to do is wish you a lot of happiness while reading this very inspiring book. Take time, listen to some classical music and apply the concepts. Before you know it, you will be organising the FIFA World Soccer Championships in Brazil, 2014!

Hamba Kahle

Charles van Goch

CEO Mise en Place Group, the Netherlands